City seeks partners to provide cheap artist studios

The city is looking to sculpt out a framework for providing a series of affordable art studios.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and the Economic Development Corporation released a formal request Wednesday for ideas from organizations interested in developing and operating studios and other workspaces at below-market rates.

Responses will be welcomed on a rolling basis, with the city regularly adding qualified submissions to a list of potential project partners.

In its request, the city cited rising rents as a threat to the vitality of the arts in New York City, noting 76 percent of people who responded to a survey conducted by the Downtown Brooklyn Arts Alliance identified cost or space as one of the biggest challenges to creating work in the city. Demand has long outpaced the number of affordable spaces, with 54 artists applying to rent two studios for $350 a month at the nonprofit Spaceworks’ Gowanus location in 2013, the city said.

As a remedy, the city is looking to contribute up to $333 per square foot to prepare space, where artists would pay no more than $1.50 per square foot a month, as part of agreements that last at least 15 years.

“We need to take immediate steps toward cultivating more affordable workspaces to ensure that artists continue to generate creative energy in communities across all five boroughs,” the city’s cultural affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, said in a statement.

The $1.50 per square-foot pricing metric was praised by Stephanie Diamond, who launched a weekly publication of available living and artist workspaces called the Listings Project, and Eli Dvorkin, who has studied the sector at the think tank the Center for an Urban Future.

Competition for cheaper workspaces has increased over the past two decades as the number of artists living in the city has grown while industrial areas previously carved up into studios have been rezoned for other uses, Dvorkin said.

“It’s tough to find something less than $3 a square foot — even in neighborhoods like Bushwick, you’re seeing listings that are $3.50 or $4 or $5 a square foot; in neighborhoods like Long Island City it could be $5, $6 $7 a square foot,” Dvorkin said, noting that artists in the middle of longer-term agreements may have secured space for less than the city’s metric. “That $1.50 or less is going to be a welcome turn of events.”

City Hall has set aside $30 million in capital funding for outfitting new workspaces and converting underused city-owned properties into studios and performance, rehearsal, exhibition and related office spaces as part of the Affordable Real Estate for Artists initiative announced in 2015. That program endeavors to create 500 below market-rate workspaces and 1,500 affordable homes for artists by early 2025. So far, the city said it has identified nearly 150,000 square-feet of affordable workspace.

As it expands its studio offerings, Dvorkin suggested the city consider offering artists space in schools when classes are not in session and creatively using other public properties.

Jimmy Van Bramer, the chair of the Council’s Committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries, and International Intergroup Relations, urged the government to require some artist workspace in any new development projects receiving subsidies or other city benefits.

“It’s a good first step,” Van Bramer said. “Obviously we need to go a lot further.”


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